During and immediately after a workout, you expect your muscles to feel sore, tender and achy – you may even experience cramps. However, your muscles feel better again after some time, and you eventually recover from the muscle soreness.

But what if the sores didn’t go away, or you felt the cramps for so long, or the pain was more intense than usual? That would be uncomfortable, right? Well, all these can occur when blood flow to the muscles is not optimal, thereby causing oxygen deficiency in muscles during exercise. Luckily there are several options available to improve blood flow to muscles during exercise and even at rest. Medicinal herbs known as adaptogens are one such option.

blood flow during exercise

Blood flow during exercise

Through the peripheral circulation, blood carries oxygen to every organ in the body. When oxygenated blood gets to the tissues, it exchanges the oxygen for waste (in the form of carbon dioxide) through capillaries that exist at the tissue site and then deoxygenated blood is transported to the lungs, where it exchanges the waste for oxygen, taken to heart and then pumped to the body again. The entire process of peripheral circulation is highly mechanized and highly efficient.

At rest, the heart pumps about 5L of oxygenated blood per minute. The brain, being the most active organ, receives the most oxygenated blood, while other organs, including the muscles, receive a proportionate amount of what is left.

During exercise, the muscles become most active, utilizing oxygen at a phenomenal rate. The peripheral circulation compensates, causing the heart to pump more blood(up to 40L in a trained athlete) and the muscles to receive more oxygenated blood than every other organ. Thus, the muscles are able to go through the exercise routine without difficulties and recover fast afterward.

However, If there is a problem with the peripheral circulation, blood flow to muscles during exercise becomes less. This condition is known as claudication (or intermittent claudication) and most commonly occurs in the lower limbs. Claudication may vary in severity, with mild forms causing pain only during exercise and severe forms causing pain even at rest. Claudication most commonly occurs due to the narrowing the peripheral arteries that supply blood to the muscle. Aneurysms, reduced cardiac output and hypoxia may also cause claudication.

Adaptogens and muscle blood flow

Adaptogens are plants and herbs that help the body respond to stress, fatigue and anxiety and improve overall well-being. Adaptogens originated from traditional Chinese and Indian medicine but are now used in modern medicine for various benefits.

Adaptogens activate the body’s stress-response mechanism, helping to restore homeostasis. These herbs also promote fat burning and muscle growth, improve sleep, increase strength and endurance and reduce anxiety.

Various studies have shown that adaptogens help increase blood flow and reduce the risk of- or treat intermittent claudication. However, the exact mechanisms are unclear. Various adaptogens have shown benefits for improving muscle blood flow during exercise and promoting quick muscle recovery afterward. Besides the muscles, these adaptogens improve circulation to various other organs by increasing circulatory volume and enhancing cardiac output.

Many adaptogens have also been demonstrated to cause blood stasis. Blood stasis is characterized by a  decrease in blood flow speed or obstruction of flow, resulting in poor perfusion of organs. Blood stasis is a major cause of claudication and may manifest as pain at rest. However, several adaptogens have shown an effect in managing this muscle pain, reversing the obstruction and increasing blood flow to various organs, including the muscles.

Which adaptogens improve muscle blood flow?

The following adaptogens have demonstrated effectiveness in improving peripheral blood flow, thus reducing claudication.

Ginger root adaptogen

Ginger

Ginger, Zingiber officinale, is a plant native to Asia. Ginger root is used as a food spice and possesses numerous medicinal properties. Besides its adaptogenic properties, this medicinal plant has an effect in treating nausea, preventing age-related brain damage, and treating stomach upsets, and menstrual cramps, among others.

Various studies demonstrate the effectiveness of ginseng in improving blood circulation by causing the blood vessels to dilate (widen). Thus, ginseng improves muscular blood flow, and some research shows that it may reverse intermittent claudication.

Safety

Ginger is generally safe but may cause mild side effects like heartburn and stomach discomfort.

Pregnant women may safely use ginger but should avoid it close to their delivery date as it might increase the risk of bleeding. Ginger is also safe for breastfeeding moms and kids.

Ginger should be avoided in the presence of bleeding disorders and should not be taken 2 weeks before surgery.

Interactions

Ginger interacts with drugs like anticoagulants like warfarin, blood pressure medications, diabetes medications and antibiotics like Flagyl.

 

Dosing

Ginger is available in teas, syrups, capsules and liquid extracts. A dose of 0.5-3 grams daily is effective for various ailments.

Cayenne Pepper Adaptogen

Cayenne

Cayenne pepper is commonly used as a food spice. Medicinally, its capsaicin content makes it potent for relieving pain and swelling. Studies show that cayenne pepper improves blood flow by dilating blood vessels and inhibiting plaque buildup. Thus, making it effective in enhancing muscular perfusion and remedying claudication.

 

Safety

Cayenne pepper is generally safe when added to food. Acute overdoses or chronic use of the active ingredient capsaicin may cause mild side effects like stomach irritation, sweating and runny nose. It also causes skin irritation.

Cayenne is safe throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding but should not be given directly to babies and children under 2 years.

People with a bleeding disorder, high blood pressure and damaged skin should also avoid using cayenne. It should also be stopped at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.

Interactions

Cayenne interacts with medications that slow blood clotting, theophylline, medications for diabetes, aspirin, ciprofloxacin, and medications for high blood pressure.

Dosing

Cayenne peppers may be eaten whole or extracted and sold as powders or tablets. The active ingredient capsaicin is often extracted and sold as creams, plasters, and gels applied to the skin for pain relief. They are also used in nasal sprays and solutions.

There is no recommended dosing for cayenne. However, if you’re taking an extract, you should speak with a doctor to establish the right dose.

horseradish blood flow

Horseradish

Horseradish is a medicinal plant with various applications. It is known as a rubefacient, a substance that stimulates blood flow to the muscles and skin. As a result, it may cause redness when applied to the skin. This herb also helps to relieve pain and cures chest congestion.

Safety

Horseradish is not safe for oral use and can only be applied to the skin as a poultice (powder). Taking horseradish can cause irritation to the lining of the mouth, throat, nose and digestive system. When used on the skin, horseradish may cause irritation and allergic reactions.

Horseradish is unsafe for pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and children. If used in pregnancy, it can cause miscarriage. Children, less than four years may suffer severe digestive tract irritation when they use horseradish. Thus, this drug should not be used in kids. Being that it crosses through breastmilk, breastfeeding mums should avoid it too.

Interactions

Horseradish interacts with levothyroxine like Armour Thyroid, Eltroxin, Estre, Euthyrox, Levo-T, Levothroid, Levoxyl, Synthroid, Unithroid, and others.

Dosing

The horseradish dose depends on the user’s age, health, and others. Therefore, it is important that you read through the directions on product labels and consult your doctor before using them.

mustard muscle blood flow

Mustard

Mustard is a genus of herbaceous plants with over 40 different species, including white mustard, brown mustard and black mustard. The mustard seed is used as a food spice, but along with other parts of the plants, it has numerous medicinal properties.

Studies show that mustard oil is a rich source of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA), which help to reduce circulating amounts of bad cholesterol, which may clog vessels. Through this means and its direct effect on the heart, mustard oil helps improve circulation to the muscles and other organs. Some studies also show that applying mustard to the skin enhances blood flow below the skin and muscles.

Mustard is also effective for preventing infection, inducing vomiting, stimulating diuresis, increasing appetite, treating coughs and colds, bronchitis, joint pain, and swelling of the mouth and throat.

Safety

Mustard is generally safe to take orally. However, some persons may be allergic to it. Prolonged application of mustard to the skin may cause burns, blisters and ulcers.

Mustard is unsafe to use in pregnancy as it may cause miscarriages. Since its effect on children is not certain, it should be avoided during breastfeeding also. People who have white mustard allergies should also avoid this adaptogen.

Dosing

There’s no defined dose for mustard. The seeds and oil are common condiments in cooking, while supplements are also available. The exact dose of mustard supplements depends on several factors, including age and medical condition. Ensure to consult a doctor before starting mustard supplements  

Effect of Muscle Blood Flow on Exercise

Effect on Exercise Performance

As mentioned, muscle oxygen demand increases drastically during exercise, and an inability to meet this demand results in pain and difficulty exercising, a condition known as claudication. Claudication is caused by several problems of peripheral circulation that cause diminished blood flow to muscles.

The adaptogens listed here work through different means to improve blood flow to muscles, thereby providing the required oxygen for the metabolic processes that take place. Through their effect on stress, they help to reduce fatigue during exercises and also relieve post-workout pain. Thus, these herbs directly improve short-term and long-term exercise performance.

Conclusion

Adaptogens have several properties that make them a go-to for any athlete. Besides their ability to improve stress coping, they also improve blood flow to the muscles, providing the necessary oxygenation for muscle work during exercise.

References

Why is there increased blood flow during exercise

Ginger- uses, side effects and more

White mustard- uses, side effects and more

Horseradish- uses, side effects and more